The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal has a well written article about a group of nine men from Mississippi that in the early 1960s traveled west to work on the El Cariso Hotshots in southern California. Many of them still live in the area around Tupelo, Mississippi and occasionally meet to share war stories.
I like how the article ends:
…They were young and immortal once, and traveled west to put that immortality to the test. They were brave and maybe a little crazy, but don’t call them stupid.
“If you went out there for the third year, you got to be a smokejumper. They dropped you in a parachute to fight fires,” Floyd said. “We were all smart enough not to go back the third year.”
I grew up in Mississippi and unknowingly followed in their footsteps a decade or so later, applying for the El Cariso job through the Forestry School’s Summer Student Employment Program at Mississippi State University. My application didn’t have the endorsement of a politician (like one of these gentlemen), but I had a previous season of experience working on a Timber Stand Improvement Crew on the Mendocino National Forest running a chain saw all day every day. I spent three seasons on El Cariso before moving on to the newly formed Laguna Hotshots — then engines, prevention, engines again, and Fire Management Officer.